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CURA to standardize facade grants for city

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- With hopes of reviving two expired urban renewal districts, Charleston Urban Renewal Authority board members want to expand and standardize the façade grant programs now offered by the city's Main Street programs.

Board members asked Ric Cavender and Stephanie Johnson, directors of the East End and West Side Main Street programs, to work out differences in their grant applications, in order to streamline the process for property owners.

Cavender said he's been talking with CURA Director Jim Edwards for months on two ways to expand the façade grant program: raising the maximum grant from $5,000 to $20,000; and offering the grants in urban renewal areas across the city, not just the Main Street districts.

Board members went over the draft façade grant rules Cavender submitted to CURA before the meeting Wednesday.

"They had asked me to add some guidelines," Cavender said. "They would have to keep up the property for five years instead of three, and make sure all their city taxes and fees are paid. We already check that but now it's written into the application."

Meanwhile, Edwards reported on progress of the agency's efforts to revive the expired West Side and Downtown/Old Charleston urban renewal plans. CURA board members have been working on the project for months, in part as a way to offer façade grants to more property owners.

The Municipal Planning Commission last week agreed the plans are consistent with the city's comprehensive plan, Edwards said. "The next step I believe is to accept their finding and send it on to City Council."

Because of different design guidelines in the East End and West Side, and probably downtown, Cavender said he would propose a standardized façade grant application, with separate design guidelines for each district. "Property owners may not be aware of all the guidelines," he said.

In other business Wednesday, Edwards and James Hemme of GAI Consultants discussed steps needed to finish the first phase of construction at the East End Community Park off Dixie Street.

"One of the challenges to finishing the park was how to deal with the soil contamination. There are several ways to do this, ideally in an affordable way."

Phase two soil tests showed low levels of contamination, Hemme said. "We talked to the DEP [Department of Environmental Protection]. They agreed there's no need for excavation of large amounts of soil.

"We propose to cap with 12 inches of soil. There's one small area where we will take soil to the landfill."

Working with the city engineer, Hemme has been trying to find local sources for the fill soil.

"We have 200 to 300 cubic yards of dirt being excavated from the new bank built on Washington Street. We can also use some of the compost the city's been making for several years. We're looking for a total of 1,400 cubic yards, which would cover 3/4 of an acre."

McClanahan Construction, the park's contractor, is expected to bid on the remaining work -- including a gravel walking track around the edge of the park -- at CURA's next meeting, Edwards said.

Preliminary cost estimates to the extra work ran about $120,000, he said.

Edwards also gave updates on several CURA-owned properties during a closed executive session. Among those:

* The tenant who operated the former Sunoco station at the corner of Washington Street West and Greendale Drive has torn down the building and completed environmental remediation of the site, making it ready for redevelopment, he said.

* A developer has offered to buy and renovate the old Chamberlain Court rowhouses in the East End near the Roosevelt Neighborhood Center.

"We had advertised that six to eight weeks ago because there were three parties interested in it," Edwards said. "I'll let them know [the offer] has been accepted and we need to put together a development proposal. They want to put it back the way it was, six individual units."

Reach Jim Balow at balow@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.

 


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